Effect of instructed extinction on verbal and autonomic indices of pavlovian learning with fear-relevant and fear-irrelevant conditional stimuli
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We investigated the effects of conditional stimulus fear-relevance and of instructed extinction on human Pavlovian conditioning as indexed by electrodermal responses and verbal ratings of conditional stimulus unpleasantness. Half of the participants (n = 64) were trained with pictures of snakes and spiders (fear-relevant) as conditional stimuli, whereas the others were trained with pictures of flowers and mushrooms (fear-irrelevant) in a differential aversive Pavlovian conditioning procedure. Half of the participants in each group were instructed after the completion of acquisition that no more unconditional stimuli were to be presented. Extinction of differential electrodermal responses required more trials after training with fear-relevant pictures. Moreover, there was some evidence that verbal instructions did not affect extinction of second interval electrodermal responses to fear-relevant pictures. However, neither fear-relevance nor instructions affected the changes in rated conditional stimulus pleasantness. This dissociation across measures is interpreted as reflecting renewal of Pavlovian learning.